"The suitor fake-proposing to one of these bimbos might have been interesting 14 seasons ago, but now we have an obligation to our viewers. We have to escalate the tension, up the stakes, complicate the story."
It may just be a simple line of dialogue uttered by Quinn (Constance Zimmer) to Madison (Genevieve Buechner) during last night's season finale of UnREAL, but it might as well have been the central thesis for the Lifetime series' second season—with an emphasis on "complicate the story." While it may not have been a disaster of True Detective proportions (few things ever will be), what was once a thrilling and coherent peek behind the curtain at the artifice of reality TV became an incoherent mess that careened dangerously off the rails by biting off way more than it could chew in season two.
So, what went wrong here? How did creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro lose control of her creation and how can she get things back on track? We've got a few ideas.
Too Much Story
To start, there was just entirely too much happening in season two. Shapiro stuffed her second outing so fully that it was practically bursting at the seams. What began as a season about Quinn ceding control of Everlasting to her protege Rachel (Shiri Appleby) as the show-within-the-show prepared to take on its first African-American suitor—which certainly could've generated enough drama for a 10-episode season without any more trappings—added on a confounding look at men's rights activism, two new love interests for our leading ladies, an undercover reporter looking to expose the sins of last season, and an ill-advised co-opting of Black Lives Matter (complete with a scene of police brutality against an African-American character), to name but a few. Each new subplot thrown into the mix could've sustained a season on its own. Instead, it became a bit like narrative Jenga. As each storyline was added to the top, the footing just got shakier and shakier until it essentially collapsed.
Not Their Story to Tell
The series sure was proud of itself for beating The Bachelor to the first African-American suitor, but it seemed to struggle with whether it even had the right to tell that story. Rachel was determined to make a statement by casting Darius (B.J. Britt), but she was repeatedly told left and right that, as a well to-do white woman, this wasn't her story to tell. (Especially when she got someone shot by the police in the process.) It felt like the show was trying to absolve itself of co-opting a struggle that isn't theirs by winking at it in such a self-aware way, but in the end, that only made the whole endeavor feel cheap. It just wasn't a good look.
A Wrinkle in Time
As each new subplot was layered in, forcing the series to rush more and more, we began to wonder how time was even working on the series anymore. In the span of but a few episodes, Quinn went from meeting Ioan Gruffudd's John Booth to being madly in love with him and ready to have his child. Not only did it feel entirely unearned, but it truly felt as if it all transpired within a week or two of the narrative. This season was a runaway train, plowing through story at such a pace that nothing really had the opportunity to resonate or even feel plausible.
An Everlasting Problem
In her quest to show the cynical underbelly of The Bachelor and shows of its ilk, Shapiro has twisted the idea of Everlasting so fully that we're not really sure why it's a show people would want to watch. "So that's it, huh? This is just what we do at the end of every season now, humiliate the suitor?" Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) asked Quinn in last night's episode. That's not what The Bachelor does. What show are they even spoofing here? And don't even get us started on the fantasy of Everlasting's production schedule. Does the show air live? Next day? Because that's now how reality TV production works. Like, at all.
UnREAL has already been renewed by Lifetime for a third season, but they've got some work to do to earn our trust back. There's still a lot to like here. Quinn and Rachel remain two of TVs most fascinating, unapologetically strong female characters. Now they just need a show that won't let them down.
What did you think about UnREAL's second season? Let us know in the comments below.